The Circumcision of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

On January 1st our Holy Orthodox Church commemorates two significant feasts, the Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the feast of Saint Basil the Great.


"Then God said to Abraham, 'As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your seed after you throughout their generations. This is the covenant you shall keep, between Me and You and your seed after you throughout their generations. Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin. It shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. A child of eight days old shall be circumcised by you--every male child throughout your genealogy, who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner not your seed. He who is born in your house, and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised; and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin on the eighth day, that soul shall be cut off from his people; for he has broken My covenant" (Genesis 17:9-14).

Commentary: The rite of circumcision was not the covenant itself, it was a "sign of the covenant" (v. 11). It was a temporary sign, because it applied only to Abraham's genealogy (v. 12), that is, to Abraham's physical lineage, and also to those born in his house or bought with his money. Thus, the rite did not apply to the "many nations," or Gentiles, to be made righteous by faith in the gospel (v. 3; see also Romans 4:9-17). Christ Himself fulfilled this rite and brought it to an end when He was circumcised on the eighth day after His Birth from the Virgin (St. Luke 2:21).

"On the eighth day after His Birth, the Divine Child was taken to the Temple and duly circumcised according to the Jewish Law that had been observed from the time of Abraham (see Leviticus 12:2-3). At this time He was given the Name Jesus, the Name announced to the Most Holy and Ever-Virgin Mary by the Archangel Gabriel (St. Luke 1;31).

The Baptism of the New Covenant was prefigured in the Circumcision of the Old Covenant. The Lord's Circumcision shows that he took True human flesh upon Himself, not its semblance as heretics later taught of Him. The Lord was truly circumcised, desiring thus to fulfill all the Law, which He Himself had given through our forefathers and the prophets. Fulfilling all the ordinances of the Law, He superseded them by Baptism in His Church, for, as the Holy Apostle Paul declares: "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Galatians 6:15).

The Circumcision of Christ--The reasons why Christ was circumcised are set out. He accepted the law, but transcended it without abolishing it. The Circumcision of Christ is a sign to us of the circumcision of the heart, which is closely associated with the spiritual life. The Holy Fathers speak of an inner and spiritual circumcision which is the purification of the heart and the transformation of the passions of the soul, so that man can attain to communion with God."

According to Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos of Nafpaktos: "The Circumcision of the newly born Christ does not only denote His True humanity, but also His Divine-human person. This is revealed especially in the Name, which was given to the newly born Christ and was already predetermined by God. 'To what Name,' asks the Holy father, 'does Luke refer, when he says, 'that He was named by the Angel before He was even conceived in the womb of His mother?' But he (Joseph) as he was contemplating this, an Angel of the Lord appeared in his dream and said to him: Joseph, son of David, do not hesitate to take your wife, because her child that She will birth to, is from the Holy Spirit, She will give birth to a son, and you will name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins'. And immediately he adds the following: 'And all this took place so that the word of the prophet might be fullfilled: 'Behold the Virgin shall conceive and will give birth to a son, and you shall call Him Emmanuel, which means God is with us.' 'Do you see,' says the Saint, 'how the words of the Prophet agree with the words of the Evangelist?' Because the interpretation of the phrase "God is with us" implies the salvation of the people--i.e., that the Master comes to live with the servants? The Name Jesus also says the same with the Angelic oracle; because Jesus means the person who out of sympathy does everything in order to save on the basis of the economy."

What the present Feast, then, primarily offers us is the revelation of the True Identity of Christ. As Saint Andrew tells us, "The feast gives us its deeper meaning because it shows us that the one grace (of the Incarnation) presents to us another (that of the economy of salvation) and unites them with the knowledge (of the Savior), enlightening us with the special brightness and glory of His Person." "Already," says the Holy Father, "we celebrate the event of His birth, and came to realize that it was ineffable, and to recognize that the Virgin mother gave birth to her son in a seedless manner. But now we are called to turn to the Son Who was born without hesitation or fear. Today's Feast calls us to understand Him from the Name which He took for our sake." This is the name Jesus which means Savior, Emmanuel, God with us, i.e., He Who came to reconcile, to familiarize and to assimilate us, human beings, with God and so to grant to us eternal salvation.

The Eighth Day is a transition from an infinite state to personal perfection; because on this Day, according to the Jewish religious prescriptions, an infant becomes a child, comes of age, acquires a specific personality. The Holy Father (St. Andrew) distinguishes the first 7 days following the birth an infant from the 8th, saying that "the 8th is a complement to the 7 and the beginning of the future." Why? Because, according to Jewish religious context, the 8th day constitutes an important milestone for each newly born human existence, inasmuch as it completes the infantile age and opens the age of maturity which leads to completion (perfection). "The 8th Day is the starting point or coming of age, because the infant, which has completed its (physical) constitution in the seven days (of its creation), is now registered (by its personal name) as a pupil who is to take mentoring lessons," and thereby be molded into a particular personality.

The Circumcision of the Eighth Day denotes transposition from a carnal to a spiritual condition: The sacramental, liturgical act of circumcision (cutting) of a small particle of the body entails the rejection of a carnal (idolatrous) condition into which every human being is born, while its replacement by the naming entails a human being's entrance into another spiritual condition which leads to perfection. Saint Andrew refers to Abraham and his father Thara in order to clarify these two conditions. Thara represents the carnal condition of idolatry which views the material carnal world within which man is born as the main point of reference for his life and for this reason it turns into his god. Abraham represents the spiritual condition which regards the Maker of the world as the main and crucial point of reference for man's life and makes man a member of the people of God and prepares him for his final completion and perfection. So the Holy Father says: "Because nature was going to be kneaded with idols by Thara, the father of Abraham, it was necessary that a people from Abraham should be set apart for the Maker by means of a seal, until the Coming, which was needed in order to be renewed. Circumcision rejects a residue of the flesh and provides a seal of the eighth day which refers to the future things."

The replacement of the circumcision of the eighth day by baptism and the eternal life which Christ granted to man through His resurrection on the eighth day: It is crystal clear that the eighth day and the future things refer to the coming (Incarnation and Inhumination) of the Maker, which marks the final phase of the restoration and salvation of humanity according to His will, i.e., the coming of Christ. As the Holy Father says, "Circumcision denotes that the Presence of Christ will supplant and replace the circumcision of the flesh by the regeneration which is granted by the Holy Spirit (through baptism) The seal of circumcision of the flesh was given in order to specify a people of God (Israel) because of the presence of idolatry and in order to abolish the idol worship. After the abolition of the idols, however, circumcision itself will also be abolished."

This is exactly what Christ did, as the Holy Father goes on to explain: "He gave us on the Eighth Day (of His Resurrection), God's eternal covenant (lawgiving) to humanity, replacing the previous seven covenants (or instances of lawgiving) which were preparatory, by this one. As he says expressly, "The old things were symbols of the new ones." What are these "old things"? The seven covenants are those connected with the following lawgivers: 1) Adam, 2) Noah, 3) Abraham, 4) Moses, 5) David, 6) Ezra, and 7) John the Baptizer. "Christ is the eighth Lawgiver after Adam," Who marks the last transposition of man from the temporary cases of lawgiving to the last and perfect one which leads to man's perfection and enjoyment of eternal life. Here are the words of the saintly father, "Adam is the first to receive a law. Noah was the second, and Abraham, the third. Moses was fourth, and David, the fifth, because he legislated about the doxologies for the kings and the tabernacles. Ezra was the sixth because he gave the Deuteronomy and settled various customs. Then, John the Baptist appeared as the seventh, because he preached the baptism of repentance to the people and the cleansing of sins by means of the water. Jesus Christ is the eighth, last and Greatest Lawgiver, as Moses says: "The Lord God will raise among you a Prophet from your brethren like me, and you shall listen to Him, because whichever soul fails to obey this Prophet will be extinguished". He is able to fulfill all that has been legislated through me because they were taken from Him and He will be fully anointed with the Holy Spirit and legislate all that is Divine and spiritual pertaining to the spirit (mind) as Lord and Creator, although His is also from us (according to the flesh)."

Being God and man, Christ has "kept Sabbath," i.e., fulfilled and abolished all those things which the ancient law specified for the flesh. On the Eighth Day of His Resurrection He became the Universal Legislator of the entire world. Not only of the Jews, but also of the nations, offering to all without distinction the anointment and perfection of the Holy Spirit and thereby calling them all with His Own Name, Christ;s (i.e., Christians). He replaced the circumcision of the flesh by the rejection of all the carnal and passionate thoughts and also by the enlivenment of every good work and good act which lead to the Kingdom of Heaven. He is truly "the Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father, the Mighty God, the Ruler, the Leader of Peace, the Father of the age to come," Whom we commemorate, exalt and worship with the Despotic Feast of the Circumcision of Christ.

Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn of the Feast. First Tone

Our human form hast Thou taken on Thyself without change. O greatly-compassionate Master, though being God by nature; fulfilling the Law, Thou willingly receives circumcision in the flesh, that Thou mightiest end the shadow and roll away the veil of our sinful passions. Glory be to Thy Goodness unto us. Glory be to Thy compassion. Glory, O Logos (Word), to Thine inexpressible condescension.

Kontakion of the Feast. Third Tone

Now the Lord of all that is doth undergo circumcision, in His Goodness cutting off the sins and failings of mortals. He this day doth give salvation unto the whole world; and the hierarch and bright daystar of the Creator now rejoiceth in the highest, Basil the wise and divine initiate of Christ.

With sincere agape in the Holy Circumcision of our Lord,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George